When we first heard about the Six Flags corporation teaming up with Samsung to outfit several roller coasters with Gear VR headsets, Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, IL was not on that list. Earlier this month, however, Great America rolled out its own VR experience on The Demon. Rage of the Gargoyles takes you on a journey in VR while The Demon roller coaster twists and turns your body in real life with four inversions and up to 6 Gs of force. Keep reading to see how that experience felt.
It’s probably best to start at the beginning. When you get in line for the ride, there are two options with separate lines available: VR, or non-VR. If you choose non-VR, you’ll head through the queue like normal. You can go through the line, get on the ride, and have a traditional roller coaster experience without any issue. If you choose the VR line, you’ll head to a different queue, which takes you on the exit side of the station where the VR tables are set up. Since the VR load time is quite a bit longer than the standard ride load, the ride operators will let several trains of “normal” riders through for each VR train.
Before a VR train is loaded, a ride op comes through to go over some basic headset instructions. Everything is pretty straight forward, but it is helpful to hear how best to put on the Gear VR headset, and how to get everything up and going quickly. While we were waiting in line, we could see another ride operator wiping off the headsets from the previous group of VR riders. I could not get a good look at how many extra headsets were available, though the headsets in use were thoroughly wiped down after each ride, with enough time between VR rides for the sanitizing agent to dry and work properly.
When the VR line is let through, each rider is handed a Gear VR headset and is then able to choose whatever seat they would like. Unlike with normal operation, it really doesn’t matter all that much where you sit when you’re wearing a VR headset. Everybody will be seeing the same thing through the headset so there’s little benefit of sitting in any one seat over another. Once seated, you’re asked to pull down the safety harness first before putting on your headset. The headsets are equipped with an adjustable chin strap, as well as a dial-tightened head strap — think the type of dial mechanism on construction helmets that give them a nice snug fit. Having a giant head as well as glasses made getting the headset on a bit of a challenge, even at the largest setting, but I was able to get everything on and tightened appropriately.
Once you’re in place, you’re asked to look directly ahead at a QR code on the back of the seat in front of you. In some instances this could be easier said than done, as the Gear VR gives you no indication of where you’re actually looking, outside of a prompt trying to load the experience. I was able to get everything synced pretty quickly, though other riders definitely had some issues getting everything lined up properly. Once synced, the VR experience will load. You’ll see yourself sitting in the back seat of an attack helicopter in a hangar. Once the ride starts, the VR experience will also be put into motion. Your head movements will fire lasers that allow you to shoot down the attacking gargoyles, and you’re given a score at the end to see how you do compared to the other riders.
I’ve gone on The Demon dozens of times over the years, so I’m pretty familiar with the normal ride. Adding the VR headset did absolutely change the experience pretty significantly. For some that may be a good thing, but roller coaster purists will almost certainly hate it. I was somewhere in the middle. I would have preferred a VR screen with a slightly sharper resolution, but otherwise the show was pretty crisp overall. My biggest complaint is that in some instances, the ride will bank in ways that you’d be able to see and brace yourself for normally, but with a VR headset you’re at the mercy of what they show you on the screen. There were a couple of spots where my head rocked a bit more than I’d like since I was looking at something in VR when I might normally have leaned into a turn or loop differently.
Virtual Reality roller coasters probably won’t be the wave of the future, but I applaud Six Flags and Samsung for trying something a bit different. Some love roller coasters the way they are and don’t want anything to change that experience (I know, I’m related to a few of them 😀 ) but for others, the VR experience may help them get onto a roller coaster for the first time, if they were maybe afraid of the ride by itself. The VR definitely augments the overall ride experience in a way that does diminish some of the thrill of the ride. It will be up to the individual rider to determine whether or not that is acceptable to them.
You can check out Rage of the Gargoyles on The Demon at Six Flags Great America most weekends (excluding the weekend of September 16-18) between now and November 6th.